There are two English websites, London Lives and The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, which are excellent resources should you be researching indentured servants and/or British convicts transported to America.
- London Lives is about “crime, poverty, and social policy in the metropolis” from 1690 – 1800.
- Proceedings of the Old Bailey is about “London’s Criminal Court – 1674-1913”
As companion sites, they tell a very complete story of our ancestors prior to their arrival in the Colonies.
If your ancestors came to America from England under duress – as indentured servants or transported convicts – and historians claim between 50 & 60,000 did, these sites are for you. They are authoritative, comprehensive, and rich in resources, detail and content. You can easily spend days on these sites. Funded by the British Arts & Humanities Council and the Economic and Social Research Council, they thoughtfully throw the door wide open to this fascinating period of time. Allow me to offer just a brief overview of what you can find on these sites.
The London Lives offers the historic and social context for the period. Before you tune out thinking this is “just” a history site, know that they have 240,000 fully searchable manuscripts online with 3.35 million names!!
The 240,000 manuscripts are derived from 39 different document types. They include:
- Parish Records
- Sessions and Coroner Records
- Hospital and Guild Records
- Documents Concerning Crime and Criminal Justice
- Documents Concerning Poverty and Poor Relief
Know that these are all British records. All of the records have been scanned and uploaded so you can see the actual document. However, and luckily for us, they have all been transcribed making the reading a quite a bit easier.
Before you dive head first into this pool, you may want to take advantage of the site’s Historical Background section. This section has a wealth of guides and tutorials explaining the terms, the historical context, and the nature of the documents mentioned above. Particularly because poverty and crime were inexorably linked in London and England it’s very helpful to understand the circumstances under which the poor lived and the laws that governed them. It is a period in time and a world very unlike the 21st Century American world in which we live it. Because it takes some time to acclimate to the unfamiliar environment, it’s well worth taking the time to read this section.
The London Lives website oddly has two search engines – one for keywords and one for names. You can use the keyword engine for names, but there is the other option.
The other odd thing is that search results can link you to information found on the Proceedings of the Old Bailey Website. Suddenly, you’re on a different website, and it’s easy to get lost. Look at the header at the top of the page to determine which site you’re on – London Lives or Old Bailey.
One of the really neat things on the London Lives site is a section where the user can create a page about an individual, presumably an ancestor, using the documents found on the London Lives site. Neat! This is kind of like the profiles pages on Fold3. The researcher creates a free account by supplying a username and password, then builds the page in a Wiki type “sandbox” area. Basically, that’s an area on their site that you can write stories, add pictures, and connect documents. Save it, come back and edit it, and then when you’re ready you can publish it for everyone to see.
You can see the “Lives” pages already created here. For researchers it’s a bonus area with pre-compiled research ready for the viewing.
Proceedings of the Old Bailey Website
This site focuses on the trial transcripts of 197,000 trials at the Old Bailey (court) from 1674 to 1913. They are fascinating not only to see the actual transcripts but to see the types of trials that took place. While this post is focusing on transported convicts to America, the trials documented on the Old Bailey website are not so limited. If your ancestor had any encounter with the law in England during these 250 years, it’s well worth checking out.
Here’s an excerpt from one trial transcript.
1807. PHŒBE ADAMS was indicted for feloniously receiving and harbouring, on the 5th of July, a female child, of the age of seven months, the daughter of John Clatworthy and Diana his wife, with intent to deprive them of the possession of the said child.
Okay, one more….(you can’t read just one!)
Mary Price pleaded guilty to strangling the three-year-old daughter of her stepfather by a previous marriage, as an act of revenge.
Isn’t that amazing? Wouldn’t you like to know this if any of these parties were part of your family tree?
This site, just like London Lives, has a Historical Background section to add color and context to the records. It addresses at length the following topics:
- Crime, Justice, and Punishment
- London and its Hinterlands (the surrounding areas)
- Community Histories
- Gender in the Proceedings (a fascinating section on how differently women and men were treated)
- The Old Bailey Courthouse (architectural history)
As mentioned earlier, there were by all accounts 50,000 to 60,000 indentured servants and transported convicts that came to America before 1800. That means there is a strong possibility that if your pedigree goes back that far in America, that there could be some excellent stories awaiting you in the two aforementioned websites. Pull up a chair, there could be a great night of discovery ahead.